Print URL:

Practice makes perfect for Gasparilla 5K champions

By Kelly Parsons
Published: February 24, 2018 Updated: February 24, 2018 at 02:57 PM
5K male winner Taylor McDowell makes his way down Bayshore Boulevard. (EVE EDELHEIT | Times)

TAMPA — The only other time Taylor McDowell ran the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K, he came in 10th place. So as this year's event neared, the Tampa resident created a training plan, and he stuck to it.

McDowell, who competed in cross country at the University of Chicago, began running twice per day for a total of 15 to 20 miles.

"He eats me out of house and home," his mother Angie McDowell said.

On Saturday, that extra fuel paid off.

For the first mile, McDowell and second-place finisher Jonathon Bermudez ran in lockstep. But McDowell, 27, turned it on with about 2 miles to go, creating a big gap on his way to winning in a time of 15 minutes, 58 seconds.

And really, it was all part of McDowell's plan.

"I wanted to take up the first mile comfortably, maybe hang in with somebody, then try to push it the second mile," he said. "The middle of the second mile really hurt. There was no shade."

It was a drastic change from the kind of weather in which McDowell got his start.

Hailing from a military family — McDowell's father, stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, is currently deployed in Korea — he moved around a lot as a kid. At 3 years old, McDowell competed in a 5K called Freeze Your Fanny in Oklahoma, and he won.

His mother has been on the sidelines watching him compete ever since.

"He ran through high school, through college," Angie McDowell said. "And now to see him do this is really amazing."

Female 5K winner Lydia Friedman is carried by her father, Raymond, after she crossed the finish line and collapsed. (EVE EDELHEIT | Times)

Meanwhile, on the women's side, winner Lydia Friedman of Lutz had her dad beside her the entire way. Friedman, 15, is homeschooled, but competes in cross country and track at Citrus Park Christian, where her dad, Raymond, coaches her.

So as his daughter competed Saturday, Raymond, 43, who ran at Gaither High School and LaSalle University, paced her.

"It was flat, which was so nice, except for a baby hill at the beginning," said Lydia, who won in 18 minutes, 25 seconds. "You get nice breeze, and then when you turn the breeze is behind you. You get all the heat, all the sun."

And as the race wore on, it took its toll on her.

At about the 2-mile mark, Lydia began breaking away from the rest of the women's pack. Keeping track of her pace, her dad worried that it was too fast. In fact, when she crossed the finish line, overheated and exhausted, she was immediately taken to the medical tent to be checked out.

"She knew those girls were coming, and she was going to do everything she could. Her legs shut down with 30 seconds to go," Raymond said. "But that's okay. Dad was going to be at the finish line to pick up his kid. Always."